27-Oct-2005

The Morning After

The Karnataka state government wakes up:
The State government will study the largescale violation of building by-laws in City Municipal Council limits around Bangalore, Chief Minister Dharam Singh said on Wednesday. The study has been prompted by the floods and human misery witnessed in the CMC areas in the last few days due to encroachment of lake beds and natural drains, he said. “We will look into why it happened... On what basis the CMCs sanctioned the buildings on the lakes, ” the chief minister said.
Why was the government sleeping in the first place? Is it not their job to see that the law is followed? (Update): I notice this happened with Mumbai too after their nightmare last month (or was it earlier?) - the HC had to ask the government to do a study on lake/natual drainage areas being used for development. I'm sure it will happen with Chennai too. Is it too difficult for those in charge to come up with and stick to a good plan for their respective cities?

Also, Bangalore roads to get a facelift with help from the Centre. The word 'facelift' is chosen well. It describes what they were getting thus far and what they could expect to get in the future. They were definitely not getting a comprehensive rejuvenation package. They could do without the facelift at all. It will only mean more money landing in the pockets of the shamelessly corrupt authorities and contractors.

26-Oct-2005

Son Of The Soil

This letter-writer to DH says it well (the title means: son of Bangalore's soil, a take on the self-given title of Mr Deve Gowda : son of the soil):
Bangalore Mannina Maga!

Sir, I have been watching the political life of Mr Deve Gowda after he lost the prime ministership and can only pity him. As an ex-prime minister, he is expected to air his comments on international and national issues. On the contrary most of the time his concern seems to be real estate in and around Bangalore, so much so that he crusaded the exit of eminent people from important agencies. The people of Karnataka lost the services of Mr Jayakar Jerome soon after Mr Deve Gowda formed the government with Congress. Now it is Mr Narayana Murthy.

Mr Gowda calls himself a “Mannina Maga”. Does ‘mannu’ refer only to the land in and around Bangalore?

SUBBU HEGDE Bangalore

Getting Worse

The misery deepens. Now look at the picture in the middle which is of the IT.in venue. That does justice to the absurdity. But unfortunately Mr Gowda, knowing what is good for him, has decided not to attend. OK, I need to go get an extra cup of coffee.

Update: Rain records broken. And Mr Gowda did attend.

25-Oct-2005

Innundated

Bangalore. The amount of rainfall during this month is expected to surpass all previous highs. The blame game is on. People blaming the authorities and the authorities blaming the people. Both are to blame obviously and I would lay more of the blame on the people. Hopefully people will stop littering and encroaching and the authorities will try to sincerely curb development which creates this waterlogging mess. But that hope breathes its last as soon as it is born.

Meanwhile, IT.in kicks off tomorrow. The picture is presented in all seriousness I suppose. Though the one in DH's print version is better - it is in color and makes the contrast between the building and the water funnier. Note the chief guest's name too.

Tangentially, we always hear about the effect we may be having on the environment. But what about the effect on cows? Today morning, driving during the morning rush hour, I saw a cow hurrying along beside the rest of the cars and two-wheelers. It had started to rain, again. The cow was alone and there was no apparent reason for it to be running. But there it was running, head bowed, with an expression exactly like someone late for work. Strange.

Then there was this mini-truck driver. He had a wiper in his hand, his hand pushed out throught the driver's window, wiping the windshield with the broken wiper as he drove. And finally, the traffic cops earning their, very bad by all accounts, pay. What a thankless job they have.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

That's Steve Jobs, in his Commencement address at Stanford. (via pankaj).

24-Oct-2005

It's The Real Thing

Vijay Mallya has the name "Kingfisher" all over TV (and print media too I presume). He must be a happy man. No one can call this surrogate advertising can they?

23-Oct-2005

Big Man Talking - Again

DH has the details. I am still groping in the dark as to the reasons for this whole outburst by Mr Gowda. Thus far I have these potential candidates:

1. The alleged 'malicious campaign' against him by 'some quarters' in the IT Industry. An reference most probably to Infosys. The whole things explains itself then as a grudge against the company.

2. Apprehension on his part that he (and the politicians in general) may lose control to the people.

3. Something that actually occurred during the original meeting which blew his lid off.

Reading today's DH article, linked above, my antenna pointed towards No. 3 again, since the presentation on local government for urban areas seems to have been only one of the topics discussed. Mr Gowda:
“I had also asked him for his suggestions on what is best for Bangalore – the Bangalore Metro, monorail or ELRTS. In what way have I hurt him?”
So he asked Mr Murthy about the metro rail. But why the second setence? It is well-known that Mr Gowda has been against the Metro rail and in favour of the monorail. Did he try to get a endorsement from Mr Murthy for the monorail, but was rebuffed and did that get his hackles up?

Further down the article this occurred - No. 1 this time.
Barring Infosys, no other IT company in the city was interfering in the State’s administration. This is because some officials and vested interests had invested in Infosys, he alleged.
The second sentence can be safely ignored - whatever the 'officials and vested interests' do or don't, their investment is safe. Nothing they do is going to affect the company. It is too big for them. He is basically complaining against Infosys. And some 'quarters in the IT ind.' are, as he seems to think, indulging in 'malicious campaigning'. Thus No. 1.

Or probably it is a mix of all three. Who knows?

He makes a new point in the article - that Infosys has asked some land in Yelahanka and that this will render many farmers landless. It would be good to hear what the farmers themselves have to say. And I wonder how many have already sold their land to real estate developers. Anekal farmers started the process of selling their land some time ago. I know. I had been to see some of it myself last year.

It is the turn of BDA and BMP next. Mr Gowda believes in giving sufficient notice before he strikes. The Bangalore Development Authority and the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike better watch out:
Today, I have discussed issues of infrastructure and airport; next will be BMP, BDA.
Update: Adding reason No. 4 which is : Alll this is the result of Infosys getting caught up in politics unintentionally, or more corrrectly, with good intentions. Going back to the days of the S M Krishna government, one recalls the erstwhile BATF and also that Nandan Nilekani (CEO of Infosys) was associated with it. His intentions must have been entirely blameless - to contribute his mite to Bangalore with the help of a progressive Chief Miniser. As it happens, Mr Krishna and Deve Gowda are close to being sworn enemies of each other. And in addition, Janaagraha too got going during those days, and Nandan was associated with that too (along with others). Unfortunately, S M Krishna was voted out. And your enemy's friend is your enemy. Infosys is left out in the cold now, at least where Mr Gowda is concerned.

Update 2: Reason No. 5: Mr Gowda is doing this to gain political capital - comes across as a common man's fearless hero by taking on renowned companies and personalities.

Update 3: Read this post from another blog (link via Amit Varma).

21-Oct-2005

Infosys Rebuttal

Infosys responds to Mr Gowda's charges. This blog has the details.

Futures Trading With A Difference

The process by which a judge gets to sit on the Supreme Court in the US is a bit different than ours. I'd lightheartedly commented on it here. But I found out today that there is a futures market which trades in such things (link via Talking Points Memo). Real money changes hands apparently.

While you are there, note this contract which is also trading - OSAMA.CAPTURE.DEC05 (Osama Bin Laden to be captured/neutralised by 31 December 2005). The bid is 5.6 - that is, a probability of 5.6% of him being captured by that date.

Can He See The Future?

I asked here what happened in the meeting that made Mr Gowda get so worked up. Well, I wonder. Is he a visionary? Does he see the power of ideas such as this and this and this? Can he envision the transparency which would set in if firms like this have their way? Can he imagine these ideas spreading all over the state? Does the thought of all that make him afraid? Does he fear losing control to the people?

20-Oct-2005

And A Resignation

Mr Murthy resigns as the Chairman of Bangalore International Airport Limited. The IT industry's cup of woe is filled to the brim.

Who Wants To Be A Mill-Owner?

In Mumbai, not many I suppose. A bit stale news, but here it is. HC distributes NTC land in Mumbai equally between mother nature, the oppressed slum-dwellers, and the mill-owners. Nice and refreshing.

Junk those glitzy malls.

Now, A Panel

Now there will be a panel to see if the land was 'given' to Infosys following the government's norms. Even if the answer if yes, the panel will revamp the norms such that it will look shady in retrospect and make sure no more land can be given. Unless the company goes through the normal channels and bows in obeisance to the big man himself presumably. And there is no doubt that the target here is Infosys. And the person heading the panel is M P Prakash who was handpicked by the big man for the Deputy Chief Minister's post recently. Anyone can guess whose inputs will go into those ears.

Whether anything will come of it or not, it leads one to ask - what exactly pricked the big man during the meeting that day? There must have been something. Apart from all the "malicious campaign" by the IT companies against his party. Why else would he wake up so suddenly to the land issue?

18-Oct-2005

Party With Differences

This article spins the simmering leadership crisis in the BJP and notes that it may not be such a bad thing for the party after all. An excerpt:
The crux of the matter is that a spell in government changes the outlook and approach of party members and leaders, especially if they had been in the wilderness for long, as in the case of the BJP top brass. But while the Congress had taken over two decades to be reduced to that position, the BJP lost its morale and ethos after just six years in government.

A more crucial question in this context is whether a divergence of opinion in a party is unhealthy per se and its absence should therefore be celebrated.
It digs (a bit deeply) into the history of the Congress and comes up with instances of dissidence - and concludes:
If ... a party struggles to practise internal democracy and a periodical change of leadership and suffers a setback in the process, it is not its end. It can be a new beginning, in fact.
I agree. I came to the same conclusion before reading this article. Still, there is a difference. The instances he quotes were surely not played out so openly and surely not with such bitterness. And this is after all the party with a difference. Iron discipline and all that I mean.

FDI In Retail

Prem Shankar Jha makes some points in this article. It would be a pity if the corner shops vanished. But will they really go a way once the big stores come, given the unique Indian context? Will Indians be able to manage once-a-week shopping from the big stores? Difficult to imagine that happening given our unique context. Bad roads, bad traffic, no one-car-per-family. We ourselves avoid shopping on saturdays and sundays as far as possible and our stores are located less than half-a-kilometer away. The rush is almost unbearable and we can't use our car because getting parking is impossible. But for durables - my better-half would travel half the city to get the best buy without doubt.

17-Oct-2005

JEEZ - How Is That Possible?

News report on the rationale for the new entrance scheme for IITs. Apparently a study was conducted which led to the changes. This is interesting though:
...the screening test and the main examination have been selecting the same 4,000 students since 2000, the study found.

Pimples

Mr Deve Gowda strikes back.
A day after a close-door meeting with Infosys chief mentor Narayana Murthy, former prime minister H D Deve Gowda ridiculed Mr Murthy for his suggestion on urban governance ...

At a press conference in Bangalore on Sunday, Mr Gowda was critical of Mr Murthy’s suggestion for shifting the focus in the State to urban governance and setting up urban bodies on the lines of grama sabhas. Mr Gowda remarked that “the views of high-profile and elite personalities are different from ground reality.” Mr Gowda wondered if Mr Murthy knew the problems of rural life.

He also sought comparison of employment generated by such companies including Infosys, which have taken government land, with other IT firms like Wipro, HP and IBM which have not been provided any government land.

Mr Gowda said: “I am sure companies like Wipro, Intel, Accenture, IBM, HP and Honeywell, which have not been allotted government land and functioning mostly in rented buildings, account for more than 85 per cent jobs provided by the IT firms in Bangalore.”
...
He alleged that a number of companies, including a few IT firms, had not fully utilised the government land allotted to them to preserve the land for real estate purpose.
Let's try to enumerate the problems with his statements.

1. Just saying that "high-profile" and "elite" personalities (as he puts it) are not aware of the ground realities is not enough. He needs to specify what exactly are the facts on the ground that make the proposal ineffective. The presentation was by Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha who has been working extremely closely with the government and local bodies for more than five years. What exactly has eluded him that hasn't escaped Deve Gowda?

Let's see what the proposal was. From the previous day's DH:
Mr Ramanathan mooted the concept of urban citizen bodies, wherein citizens would have a greater say in urban governance. He also made a strong pitch for urban decentralisation and a “credible coordination mechanism” between civic agencies.

The Infosys chief said today Bangalore was hobbled by myriad problems. Tomorrow, it could be the turn of smaller cities like Mysore and Hubli. “We need to think beyond infrastructure and Bangalore. We need to tackle urban issues such as poor quality of life, housing, education, water and sanitation. We need to put our heads together, look ahead and plan accordingly,” Mr Murthy told reporters after the meeting. Mr Murthy said Karnataka had a concrete system for rural governance, but lacked the same for urban areas. He felt the economic opportunities in cities could be leveraged by putting in place a robust structure for urban governance.
I don't see anything elitist in that. Mr Ramanathan has been putting out these ideas for sometime now. Here and here for instance. He also has the figures: With a population of 3.2 crores, rural Karnataka has 84,168 representatives - at the zilla, taluk, gram panchayat levels. With 1.7 crore people, urban Karnataka has 5,023 representatives - at the city corporation, city municipal corporation, town municipal council, and town panchayat levels. That is a representative for every 380 rural persons, but one for every 3,400 urbal persons. 100 rimes more representation in the rural areas than at the urban areas. As he puts it:
Measured one way, the distance between citizens and their elected representatives is almost 10 times greater in urban areas than rural Karnataka; in Bangalore, 100 times greater, explaining the relative anonymity of local governments in towns and cities.

In addition to this, the gram sabha in the rural areas has got legitimacy, if not actual on-the-ground usage, with the idea that every registered voter should participate in decision-making. In contrast, the urban areas have a concept of the wards committee, hampered by the combination of a debatable nomination process, limited citizen representation and an ambiguous mandate.
So where is the problem with this idea? What are the realities that intrude?

2. He asks if Mr Murthy knows the problems of rural life. Not relevant to this conversation. I don't think Mr Murthy is suggesting that the government ignore rural areas. He is suggesting a way to ease the urban situation. The two need not be mutually exclusive.

3. He links the land allegedly "given" by the government to Infosys to the employment generated by the latter. I give up on this one. I don't understand what he is trying to say.

4. His accusation that "some" IT companies are playing the real estate game on the side too doesn't make too much sense. Are these individuals in the companies making hay? I can't believe that. On the other hand, if it is the entire company making killings in the real estate market - that does not hold much water either. A $2 billion company doesn't need to make a few crores on land. It has no material impact on anything.

So one can only conclude that Mr Gowda is talking through his hat. But it is not hard to see where this angst comes from :
He alleged that there was a systematic malicious campaign from some quarters in the IT sector to brand the coalition government as anti-IT and one with no interest to improve Bangalore infrastructure.
Politicking as usual.

Reading this news report on the front page of DH today I was reminded of one thing. In the preface to Volume 1 of Anton Chekhov's short stories by Raduga Publications, Maxim Gorky recalls his impressions of Chekhov. In it he recounts a visit of a government prosecutor to Chekhov at his house. The prosecutor begins by trying to engage Chekhov with his analysis of one of Chekhov's characters. Realising that he is putting it on, Chekhov switches to lighter topics which really engage the prosecutor. After the prosecutor leaves, Chekhov says this about him (a bit unfairly according to me):

"And it's pimples like that on the backside of justice who dispose of the destinies of men."

One would be hardpressed to think of something which would make the above description not fit people like Mr Gowda.

Attack Of The Salesgirls

I need help desperately. Salesgirls selling battery-operated electric shavers knock on my door during broad daylight. Opening the door and checking the rising panic, I tell them no, I don't want them since I only shave once a week and five minutes in a week is not enough of a trouble to warrant investment in a possibly very short-lived contraption. But they say just see how easy it is to use and suddenly lunge towards me with the shavers held out in front of them, going for the few days-old stubble on my face. I dodge them only to have them shave off the hair on my forearms in a smooth move.

I have only one question: have they lost all sense of what is right?

04-Oct-2005

Chimp Quits Smoking

Spare a thought for our dumb chums and their problems. Solitude and grief affect them badly too. This chimp took to smoke after his two partners passed away and his daughter left him. Thankfully his zoo keepers have cured him by making his life more colourful. Sony would have hardly had chimpanzees in mind when they designed the Walkman though.

Perceptions Of India

L K Sharma, DH's man in the US, is keeping a close eye on proceedings affecting the nuclear deal in Washington. And writing down his thoughts with a tongue firmly in cheek as usual. He notes the three groups India is up against
  • Those who objected to India hobnobbing with Iran [but] had no problem with the accord itself because they believe that President Bush can do no wrong.
  • The non-proliferation lobby that is not afraid to speak out against Mr Bush and, of course, against the Indo-US agreement.
  • Then there are sarkari academics analysing the world’s trouble spots for the good of their country, either having worked for the government or hoping to work. They are shocked by the Indo-US agreement because they had never expected it.
One academic having "close friends both in India and Pakistan" has apparently disturbed Indian diplomats by telling lawmakers that
"the presence of very large arsenals raises the possibility of India and Pakistan sharing their nuclear weapons with other states, perhaps by extending a protective umbrella over them or simply giving them to other states.”
Full testimony here. Read it. It is definitely interesting - some facts and figures, sometimes down to earth, sometimes peppered with sudden bursts of imagination like the suggestion of India's space program being suddenly diverted for military purposes and used to 'blind' US satellites!

03-Oct-2005

We The People

This column by Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha was lying in my mail box for some time before I read it today. In it he tries to draw some lessons from the recent confrontation between the Delhi government and the people. Stressing on the importance of getting people to participate in the process of decision-making he says:
Lesson 4—It is better to work from the front foot than be cornered into these positions: allowing participation is not only morally right, it is also strategically useful. Citizens today are getting away with taking pot-shots at government, with no accountability of their own, either in taking tough decisions on reforms, or in being honest participants in public services. For example, one of the sore points in the power crisis is the 50% power theft. While the responsibility to ensure compliance is the service providers’, in a society where contractual enforcement will take time, local stakeholders can exert far more pressure than a discom. Being completely open also allows the government to demand responsibility from citizens and constructive solutions from critics, rather than allow procedural criticism to obfuscate fundamental reform debate.
Exactly. Someone has already said it - we get the government we deserve. We as a people are challenged (as in mentally challenged, visually challenged) when it comes to doing the right thing - we break traffic rules, building rules, evade taxes, steal power, sell borewell water on the sly, dump waste at the street corner. Who knows, many a politicians may be saying: "Look at these people, they break rules themselves, and they expect us to be upright. People are all inherently bad, corrupt, and interested only in themselves and their families. They have no time to think of the public good. I've completely lost faith in them".

Maybe we as people need to change along with or before the politicians change.

02-Oct-2005

In A Spot - 011005

This is not another one in the series. Not the usual one at least, because Ms Tavleen Singh shows that she can write sensible articles if only she doesn't try to drag her favourites peeves into it - like Sonia Gandhi and her allegedly rubber-stamp PM and her dynastic and decaying party.

She still cannot prevent the occasional slip like this, but that's ok I guess:
Had they paid attention then instead of slums in Chembur there would have been affordable housing for the poor. Instead of evil slum lords there would have been legitimate real estate companies controlling the housing market.
Right. Slum lords evil. Real estate companies pure as the driven snow. Tell us another one please.

01-Oct-2005

Surging Ahead In Road Accidents

Every country wants to be the first in number of road accidents apparently. This report from DH says

A sharp increase in the number of road accidents resulting in more than 90,000 deaths in the country has given India the dubious distinction of accounting for 10 per cent of the world’s total road accident deaths, highest for any country.

No source mentioned. And this from China's People Daily Online dated June 25, 2004

Lastest research shows that every day in China at least 300 people are killed in traffic accidents, ranking the country top in the world for both the death toll and the death rate. And the figure is accelerating by 10 percent every year.
... in 2001 [the figure for all accidents] had leapt to 750,000. Last year the figure was more than 770,000, with 110,000 people losing their lives and 560,000 injured.